I love beautifully designed homes. The stacks of design and interior magazines leaning against various walls in our own dwelling is testament to this. There’s nothing I like more than gazing at ingenious storage, Zen gardens in the heart of Hackney and kitchen islands that I’d gladly be marooned on. So on our recent sojourn to Pittsburgh, where the Sherpa and I stayed with very dear friends I was overjoyed that we were going to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural marvel Falling Water. Designed in 1935 for Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr., a wealthy businessman this house in southwestern Pennsylvania was intended as a place for the family to escape to on weekends.
The 50 mile drive southeast of Pittsburgh took us far away from the industrial browns and grays of the city to rural landscapes dotted with farms, open fields, towering grain bins and run down houses. The snow that initially fell with a soft waltz like rhythm soon took on a more aggressive tango-esque stance. After living in London where snowfall is often a one day affair that leaves everything grey and slushy rather than pristine and white I loved the otherwise inclement weather conditions.
We reached Falling Water after two and a half hours on the road close to lunch time. One can only access the house through a guided tour and ours wasn’t scheduled to start for another 45 minutes. So we sat down for a meal at The Falling Water Café and then moseyed off to the gift shop and browsed through overpriced tie pins and wind chimes all inspired by the man’s work.
Our tour guide was a somewhat theatrical woman. I say somewhat because she seemed to be in the process of finding her thespian voice. Throughout the tour she paused at the most inopportune of places, would look at the group with wide eyes and then suddenly burst out with a torrent of information at a distinctly higher pitch. The theatrics were futile for the house is where all the drama lies.
Built partly over a waterfall (hence the name) Wright’s organically designed private residence is modern without being stark and cold. The house is connected in many ways to the land it’s built on from the water falls that run beneath it to the fireplace and hearth made of boulders found on site. The wavy patterned stone floors are waxed giving the impression of rocks protruding from a rippling brook. Cantilevered terraces (some larger than the rooms they adjoin) bring the outside within giving the illusion of great space and flooding the house with natural light and sound.
Not only has this habitat been designed with a great eye for detail (the distance between the natural vertical stains of the white oak cupboards are the same as that between the vertical lines of the grilled terrace doors) but each and every piece of furniture and art that fills the rooms of the house have been chosen carefully. Except for the kitchen (chosen by Mrs. Kauffman), an homage to the plastic and melamine mania of the time nothing else in the house has aged. There is nothing that is gimmicky or faddish, something we can thank Wright for, for he culled most of the furnishings and accessories himself. From the gorgeous Tiffany lamps to the original Picasso’s to the jewel like cushions that scatter the seating areas each piece has been lovingly chosen. There’s a global feel to the house which doesn’t leave one feeling like they’re walking through a museum exhibit entitled ‘Me and my travels through the world. Everything fits beautifully and quietly in to its chosen space and nothing shouts out.
On the hillside above the main house the garage, servants' quarters, and guest bedroom maintain the same look and feel of the main house. I loved the dark, quiet passage to the extension where a Japanese armoire and Diego Riviera painting shared space with a 17th century bust from an Indian temple.
As we left the house to take pictures outside (no photography allowed within) I couldn’t help but wonder how I would have felt, having someone else design and decorate my home. Falling Water is without a doubt beautiful and welcoming. But how much of it felt like home to Mrs. Kauffman? How much of it felt like hers?